A Toronto resident trying to bring his mother to Canada from Bulgaria fears that the painstaking work he's done to complete the required forms has all been "for nothing," after the Trudeau government announced major changes to the parent and grandparent sponsorship program just before the holidays.
Last month, the federal government announced its plan to replace the first-come, first-served application process for the family reunification program with a lottery system. That change came into effect this week.
Kevork Tanielian, a citizen who came to Canada from Bulgaria in 2010, is trying to bring his mother here. He had been working to complete the sponsorship application under the old guidelines, which required that all of the paperwork be fully filled out and delivered to the immigration office on the first day of business in January.
"It's been like a roller coaster in a sense, because it took a tremendous amount of paperwork that needed to be completed," Tanielian told CBC Toronto's Metro Morning on Wednesday.
"But at the last moment we were told that this is already gone. So all of this time and money that we put into preparing the paperwork was for nothing at this point."
Tanielian's mother helps care for his grandparents.
He hasn't told her that the immigration system has changed, and that her fate rests more now with the luck of the draw.
"I come from a family of working class people. I've been told that I need to work hard to achieve those things. Luck has never been a factor in the things that we've done," Tanielian said.
"Therefore we needed hard work to prepare the paperwork and even involve the professionals to get this thing through. That's why I'm thinking that it's probably a lost cause at this point."
Old system 'wasn't very fair'
Under the old system, the first 10,000 fully completed applications submitted after the immigration office opened for business in January were accepted for processing. Sponsors who wanted to ensure their application got in would often pay couriers, sometimes hundreds of dollars, to stand in line early that first day, according to Tanielian's lawyer Chantal Desloges, a senior partner at Desloges Law Group.
Because that office is in Mississauga, "it wasn't very fair to people in Halifax or Vancouver who didn't have local connections to be able to get to the front of the line," Desloges said.
Under the new system, citizens and permanent residents who wish to sponsor parents or grandparents must fill out a basic online form on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada website between Jan. 3 and Feb. 2. The form is an expression of interest to sponsor a parent or grandparent.
After that, IRCC will randomly select 10,000 prospective sponsors and invite them to complete the full application, which they must do within 90 days.
Last month, Immigration Minister John McCallum said that the lottery system would make the process more fair.
"We're ensuring everyone can access the application process by giving them the same chance to have their name chosen," he said.
Changes not in Tanielian family's favour, lawyer says
But Desloges said the new system could entice a lot of applicants who may not qualify for the program to fill out the form, meaning candidates like Tanielian have less chance of being selected.
"There are 10,000 spaces available. If only 11,000 people put forward an expression of interest, then the odds are really quite good to be selected," Desloges said.
"But the problem is when you put something online and you make it deceptively simple and you don't charge a fee for it, my fear is that a lot of random people who may not even be eligible to sponsor their parents at all, may think 'What have I go to lose?' and register an expression of interest and then get one of those invitations and use one of those spots and in the end not even be eligible for sponsorship."
Asked whether there is a provision to apply to sponsor a parent or grandparent under special circumstances or humanitarian grounds under the new system, Desloges said that's unclear.
"What's not clear in this case is how you'd go about lodging that, because you have to be invited to apply, and if you don't get an invitation to apply you can't just randomly send in an application," she said. "So it remains to be seen. I'm sure people are going to try it. I know I will definitely try it."
'It will be just haphazard'
Tanielian is dreading telling his mother about the change in the application process. Another option for him is the super visa, which allows parents or grandparents to come to Canada as a visitor and stay for two years.
But Tanielian called that a "Band-Aid" solution, particularly given the often prohibitive insurance costs that must be paid under the super visa of between $3,000 and $4,000.
"Imagine if you're in an emergency room and all the patients are being treated not based on the decisions by the triage nurse, but by some sort of lottery system," he said.
"All the medical needs are not going to be given to those who need it, it will be just haphazard. So the visa lottery system is similar."